Saturday, August 15, 2009

David Adams Richards speaks out

Today's Globe and Mail includes an adapted excerpt from David Adams Richards' new book, God Is, an excerpt that I think is important, controversial, and well worth reading. The headline for the essay suggests its boldness: "Canada's literary community gets religion all wrong, argues David Adams Richards in his new book, God Is."

Here's a sample, but I think the essay deserves to be read in its entirety, and I hope to get to the book soon, for a fuller exploration of what Richards has to say -- already, I find much to agree with here.
within Canada's writing and intellectual community, many people I know will not consider the idea that skepticism toward the existence of God may not be absolutely progressive.
It is a credulity of thought that is almost prerequisite in much of our literary culture. Darwin proved it, or someone proved it, and now our literary quest is to make such proof absolute. The derision toward anyone who believes is swift and non-negotiable among many writers today, or at least in their writing. It is as if a doctrine has been set in motion in which not to demean religion is sacrilegious.
That is not to say I want anyone to write religious books. Far from it, let me tell you. Anyone who thinks that misses the point entirely.
I am simply reflecting on the plethora of anti-religious elitism that passes for both comedy and concern among people who lecture from the stage. It is a kind of swaggering doctrine that in its own way is as rigid in its essential belief as the evangelical or Catholic dogma it mocks.

I know that I am often dismayed at conversations among academic colleagues who abandon their training to make sweeping, unexamined statements about religious beliefs that they would never make about race, ethnicity, or gender. I'm not alone in this dismay, but often those of us who feel these way tend to stay silent rather than be misunderstood as apologists for religion. Certainly, my own cultural background is Catholic and there is still much about the faith that resonates with me very powerfully. At the same time, I recognize the Church's failings -- my family has experienced abuse at its hands, abuse which was recognized and punished by a court of law -- and have found myself unable to participate in/attend Mass for years now because of the teachings regard sexuality and gender. My objection, which I'm so pleased to have Richards help articulate, is to the unproblematized tarring of so much with such a widely-applied brush -- after all, my grandmothers and grandfathers, my father particularly, all gone now, lived in a profound and loving and nurturing faith that I am hurt to have derided as merely feeble-minded.

That's enough. I'll encourage you to read Richards instead -- he says it so much better than I do.


  1. Interesting. I'm an atheist (born to atheist parents), but I recognise and dislike the attitude Richards (and you) refer to. I think it's prevalent in Australian culture also. While I enjoy living in a secular society, I think dismissing all belief systems - and those who follow them - is its own form of dogma. I wonder whether it's a reaction that's gone too far in one direction and will move back to a more moderate position, or is it now entrenched in the 'elite' that Richards mentions?

  2. That's exactly mine and, I think, Richards' point, Tiffany -- that this summary dismissal is, itself, dogmatic -- and totalizing as well, in people who generally decry totalitarianism. I'm not sure that there will be a swing back because too few of us are comfortable speaking out. There's something about the "uncoolness" factor, I'm afraid, the fear of being seen as conservative in an atmosphere (at least in academic and/or artistic circles) that usually favours liberalism. As well, many of us have learned to be politely quiet on religion and politics. . .

  3. Yes, I think you're right about the 'uncool' thing - it's an element of setting oneself apart as an elite. I'm (just quietly) thinking about going back to university AGAIN, so I'm relishing any opportunity to THINK about things. Thanks!

  4. I'll be curious to see how you manage the juggling, Tiffany, if you do go back. Sometimes I daydream about taking courses again in some completely new subject . . . . such a world of learning possibilities.

  5. Yes, the juggling is a challenge. But I did my Masters of Teaching as a full-time course and kept working alongside it when the kids were both younger (one in preschool, one in early primary school). With the big one about to start high school, I'm very tempted to get my brain working again ... As you say, so much out there to learn! It's one of life's joys, isn't it?!

  6. I did my grad work while juggling kids and work as well -- it got overwhelming at times but as long as I kept reminding myself that it was my choice, I did okay. And being busy seems to breed its own kind of efficiency, I think. (altho' there are obviously dangers to avoid, mental health being important and all . . . )